Linguistics can bring moments of unexpected joy. While our professional satisfaction is derived from creating awesome translations, sometimes the most memorable moments are discovering one of those beautiful words for which there is no equivalent.
There are thousands of untranslatable words, each unique to the language which created it, and each perfectly representing a very specific and relatable mood, situation or event. Finding these little treasures is definitely a perk of the job and as we head into the holiday season, we’d love to share our top 10 with you.
So, make a cup of something warming and revel in the poetry of these evocative and descriptive words:
Duende (Spanish) – the mysterious power that a work of art possesses to move a person deeply
Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese) – the action of running one’s fingers tenderly through someone else’s hair
L’appel du vide (French) – the instinctive temptation to jump when at a height (literally “the call of the void”)
Hanyauku (Rukwangali) – the act of walking across warm sand on tiptoes
Hiraeth (Welsh) – homesickness mixed with sadness or loss, a type of longing for one’s homeland or romanticised past
Forelsket (Norwegian) – the indescribable feeling of euphoria when falling in love
Ya’aburnee (Arabic) – although literally meaning “you bury me”, it’s used to declare a hope that your loved one will outlive you because of how unbearable life would be without them
Waldeinsamkeit (German) – the feeling of being alone in the woods, of solitude, of peace and of being connected to nature
Iktsuarpok (Inuit) – the anticipation of expecting a visitor, which drives you to constantly check to see if they’re coming
Sobremesa (Spanish) – the after-lunch socialising and conversation around a table
And not to forget that word in our title – hyggeligt – perhaps the most apt for this time of year. This Danish adjective encapsulates a warm, cozy, sociable moment which feels safe and comforting. It’s the perfect description of a Christmas card scene of family gathered around a table, enjoying food together in flickering firelight. You’re probably familiar with the related noun: hygge, and its imagery of warm drinks, cosy knits and candlelight. It’s a word which is replicated in both German and Swedish languages too but not English.
Nevertheless, we think it’s a delightful sentiment whatever your nationality and so we wish you all a totally hyggeligt Christmas.